The University of South Florida is facing an issue that’s not just a problem for colleges, but large corporations and government agencies as well – how to improve the diversity of who they do business with.
To help address the issue, USF is improving its Supplier Diversity program, which monitors who the university gets goods and services from, as well as who it signs construction contracts with.
That work began last April with the hiring of Assistant Vice President Terrie Daniel, who led similar efforts for the State of Indiana.
She faces an uphill battle – a number of local groups have sparred with USF for years about the small amount of money the school spends with minority-owned businesses. In the most fiscal recent year, the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs says about $767,000 went to African American-owned businesses – that’s out of $332 million in direct spending – barely one quarter of one percent.
But speaking at a USF Board of Trustees meeting in St. Petersburg this past December where Daniel presented a plan for going forward, she had a strong response for critics.
"How dare someone say that this program cannot be successful because of our past performance," Daniel said.
The Office of Supply Diversity isn't just looking for African-American-owned businesses. The program targets women- and veteran-owned businesses as well.
Daniel’s office worked with an advisory committee made up of senior executives from across USF to come up with a plan. One of the first things they did was figure out a goal.
"The organizations who have focused supplier diversity initiatives fall in the range of approximately 13 to 20 percent of their addressable spend, and that will be the target range for USF's supplier diversity initiatives as well," she said.
Daniel added they’re already implementing parts of the plan, including updating language in the university’s construction contracts, setting up a system to monitor progress and hiring a supplier diversity business analyst.
"That person will be charged with helping us to review the data, look at our spend analytics, and help us identify where we have opportunities," Daniel said.
Trustees, however, had some concerns. Nancy Watkins, who owns her own small accounting firm, pushed for a fuller definition of diversity.
"What I don't want to have happen is that we go the wrong way and that we give up true diversity because we're chasing these labels," Watkins said. "And I hope this society gets beyond that - if it's not this generation, if it's two generations, where we don't have to measure this anymore."
While board vice chairman Jordan Zimmerman had a simple question:
"How will we define diverse supplier success?"
"We talk about spend and we want that to be in the range of 13 to 20 percent," Daniel explained. "But we also want to increase percentage and actual number, year-over-year, of diverse suppliers that submit responses on opportunities led by purchasing."
Other components of the plan include outreach to departments around USF, letting them know about new suppliers, as well as outreach to possible vendors, both locally and statewide. Daniel said her office will also debrief losing bidders and let them know what the selected contractors did right and how they can improve their own bids in the future.
USF board chairman Brian Lamb is optimistic, saying other Florida universities are already reaching out to to the university to find out what they’re doing.
"I would tell you objectively, the University of South Florida is going to be a leader in some of these categories, but we have opened up a dialogue with the (Florida) Board of Governors around this as well," Lamb said.
While the plan will be consistently monitored and adjusted during the next year or so, progress is already slowly being made. This past October, the university’s first annual Supplier Diversity Day drew more than 60 businesses to USF.
And some of the biggest critics are coming around. At the December trustees meeting, James Ransom, a board member of the Tampa Organization for Black Affairs, spoke of wanting to work with USF in improving things.
“Our intent is to try to make this university better than it is," Ransom said. "It does so many things well and there’s some things that could be done better, and we’re going to keep working with the university to try to achieve those kind of things with you as a collaborator.”
To see the USF Office of Supplier Diversity's strategic plan, click here.